At the recent Bluedot Festival, I watched a wonderful talk from scientist, author and comedian Matt Winning. As a companion to his book Hot Mess, he discussed the various ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint, and the impact that this can have on the environment. He also discussed the importance of not letting the scale of the problem overwhelm us, and to instead focus on the small things that we can do to make a difference.

Working in technology, I’m acutely aware of the impact that our industry has on the environment. For those who commute regularly, the carbon footprint of our daily travel can be significant. And for those who work in the cloud, the energy consumption of our data centres is a constant concern. (That’s without even getting into the impact of the constant heap of environmental waste that we generate by constantly replacing our devices, or thinking about how far the ingredients for our lunchtime sandwich have travelled.)

Measuring your carbon footprint

If you want to put a relatively precise number on the scale of your environmental impact, set aside some time to look at the Carbon Footprint Calculator. It’s not an exact science (if you pardon the pun) but even if the number(s) that it produces appear meaningless upon first glance, it’s relatively easy to imagine how you could reduce each of those numbers by 10%, 25% or even more, depending upon the scale of change that you’re happy to make.

What can you do?

Climate change is a huge problem, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge, especially when the largest (potentially planet-saving) changes need to be made by big businesses. But there are a variety of ways in which individuals can make a difference, and they needn’t involve making huge sacrifices to your lifestyle. Some of them may even make you happier and healthier!

  • Travel and Transportation: If you’re a frequent car traveller, could you switch to public transport, or even walking or cycling? If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, would you consider going electric, or at the very least investing in a hybrid or more fuel-efficient model? Or could you even consider working from home more often, to reduce your commute? (Home working, of course, has its own impact on other energy consumption, but it’s still likely to be a net win.)
  • Home Energy Use: Could you switch to a green energy provider? Could you reduce your energy consumption by turning off lights and appliances when they’re not in use? Could you invest in a smart meter, to help you to monitor your energy usage? We appear to be slowly coming out of the deep end of the UK energy crisis, but it’s still worth considering how you can reduce your energy consumption, and how you can make your home more energy-efficient.
  • Diet: Could you reduce your meat consumption, or even go vegetarian or vegan? (I’m not suggesting that you need to go cold turkey - there’s another pun - but even the simple act of a “Meat-Free Monday” could significantly reduce your footprint.) Could you buy more locally-sourced produce, or even grow your own? Could you reduce your food waste by planning your meals in advance, and only buying what you need? (I’m a big fan of organisations like Too Good To Go and Olio, which allow you to buy surplus food from local restaurants and supermarkets at a discount, to prevent it from going to waste.)
  • Shopping: It’s not only food which gets an environmental boost when you shop locally. Could you reduce your online shopping, and instead buy from local businesses? Could you buy second-hand or locally-made items from independent retailers, which would give a boost to your local high street too?

Reduction vs offseting

The above suggestions are all about reducing your carbon footprint, but there are also ways in which you can offset any unavoidable carbon emissions. This is a way of “paying back” the environment for the carbon that you’ve consumed, by investing in projects which will help to reduce carbon emissions elsewhere. (For example, by planting trees, or by investing in renewable energy projects.)

I’ve been supporting environmental projects through Ecologi since the summer of 2022. Via a monthly subscription, you can support tree-planting and other environmental projects, both in the UK and abroad. They’ll even send you emails each month with photographs of where your money is going! (If you use my referral link to sign up, we’ll each get 30 trees planted for free!)

In a world where our mailboxes and inboxes are overloaded with junk or demands for money, it’s nice to get a regular reminder that you’re making a difference. As of the time that you’re reading this, I’ve planted 478 trees, and offset 22.33 tonnes of carbon. That’s the equivalent of 17 long-haul flights, or 55,401 miles driven in a car. (Yes, those numbers are updated automatically - just another meta-reminder that making a change needn’t require a huge amount of effort!)

Key takeaways 📝

  • The biggest changes can be made by the biggest organisations. Environmental activism and awareness are key!
  • That said, there are plenty of ways in which we can all make subtle lifestyle changes as individuals.
  • If you can’t reduce, you could consider offsetting.